Big packs for big guys.
March 20, 2008 12:45 AM   Subscribe

Recommend a backpack for a big guy...

I am 6'5", about 250lbs, long torso, 38-40 inch waist. I have pretty broad shoulders and chest, I haven't done the measurements just yet. I'll be doing the usual fittings at REI, but I'd like a recommendation from folks who are a bit larger than most as I am.

Needs/wants - pack will be used for multi day backpacking at multiple altitudes, eventually leading up to a week+ trip in a year or so. Internal frame, adjustable suspension, hydration compatible. Water resistant not required, I can handle that with a rain fly for it.

As I am pretty big, weight initially isn't too big of a concern, figure maximum loads of about 60lbs. I haven't settled on a volume yet, as I am most interested in finding a series or a number of packs with varied volumes that fit me best. My searching thus far has eliminated a number of manufacturers who seem to cater to the folks who are smaller than I am overall.

Budget is pretty open, I'm willing to pay for a pack that is worth it, I will likely not go in for a 400 dollar pack unless it really shows it's worth in some test hikes.
posted by iamabot to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (16 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
i'm 6'1'' 190. i would check out the kelty line... ample room in the chest and shoulders if you can hang with the shasta.... i took it for a winter mountaineering trip last year and it seemed immense and adjustable beyond my need.
posted by eedele at 3:04 AM on March 20, 2008

Bonius likes ULA backpacks. He describes himself as 'sasquatch-like' and seems pleased with his new pack. Not expensive and hand made in the USA.
posted by Huw at 5:09 AM on March 20, 2008

Osprey offers a wide array of sizes (both volume and back length), including some spiffy light-weight packs. Their website talks about custom-molding and other custom services, so that may help you get fitted if you are having trouble finding something that works. REI carries some of their products but not all, so you may have to use mailorder or find another store if there is a particular model you want.

I have to say I heartily un-recommend the REI-brand packs -- they are almost always inferior in design to the products they are copying. They are cheap, though, so you could buy one, beat it up, and get something better later if cash is short. Everyone I know who has owned one has been unsatisfied with it, so unless they have gotten tremendously better in the last two years, look at other brands first.

(And as an aside, weight matters, even if you are a big guy -- your knees are already taking a pounding, no need to make it worse with a heavy pack full of heavy gear.)
posted by Forktine at 6:26 AM on March 20, 2008

Gregory makes great packs. And the bags come in sizes (s, m, l, xl) straps and waist belts also have sizes. And the strap mounting locations are also adjustable (you can mount the shoulder straps higher and lower on the bag, which is great). So there's a lot of choices.

Get a back with a "slash" into the main compartment. This is a zipper that runs along the length of the bag and makes mid-day loading and unloading (like for the fleeces, food, etc.) fast and almost fun. Top-load only gets very old after a few days.
posted by zpousman at 7:47 AM on March 20, 2008

Seconding the Gregory line. I'm on my second Gregory pack, and I'm a big fellow as well. They're very comfortable.

As comfortable as carrying 50-odd pounds of crap on your back uphill gets, anyway.
posted by M.C. Lo-Carb! at 8:03 AM on March 20, 2008

Arc'teryx makes awesome packs, fully adjustable and in many sizes. They're are very confortable, and cannot be destroyed.
posted by ddaavviidd at 8:10 AM on March 20, 2008

I have a couple friends (one of whom is 6'10" and 270+) who swear by their McHale packs. Made in Seattle, made to measure, expensive but the best for multiday comfort.
posted by seawallrunner at 8:32 AM on March 20, 2008

I have an Osprey Crescent 85, large size, and I'm 6'5, 240 lbs., 38" waist. I don't really plan on doing much of the week-long backpacks, so the capacity of the pack wasn't really my main reason for buying it; it was just the only pack at REI that fit me, and according to the guy who sold it to me it was the largest pack they carried at the time. I haven't had a chance to do much with it yet, but the pack fit like a dream. I loaded it up pretty full at REI before buying it, and it felt really good. At the REI where I bought mine, they have a proprietary Osprey oven where they heat up the memory foam hip belt--once it's warm you put it on and it molds itself to your hips. I'm a water bottle guy, but it has a sleeve for a hydration pack if that's your thing. Most of your listed features are pretty standard features on packs these days. The one downside of my pack is that it cost $380, but if you're an REI member you have a 20% coupon for use on one item that you can use before the end of March. I think that your size will pretty much dictate that you'll be carrying a large-volume pack no matter what, so the week-long trip won't be problem for you.

There was a Gregory Whitney pack that came close on fit, but the padding on the hipbelt cut into my stomach enough that I thought it would be uncomfortable over a long haul--I know I weigh 240, but I don't really have a belly, so it's a concern even for flat-stomached people. I also tried an Arc'teryx pack (don't remember which model--maybe a Bora 80), that I just couldn't get adjusted to work right. I've rented packs from REI previously, and I really never had that much of a problem with them--the internal frame pack I rented most was a North Star (IIRC), and I thought that was a pretty good pack overall, and fit me pretty well. It just lacked some of the features of the more name-brand type packs. I have a number of REI products, and I've never had an issue with their quality of construction, so maybe my experience is just different from Forktine's. I've also heard almost preposterous stories of people that were unsatisfied with their purchases of REI products that successfully returned them, even when the items were no longer re-sellable. I get the feeling that REI totally stands behind their stuff.

Backpacker magazine's March issue is their gear guide, and you might still be able to find an issue on the racks of your local outdoor stores. For the most part, the issue is just a list of every type of equipment, broken down by manufacturer, but they do have a few reviews in it and it's a good guide for price, capacity, and feature comparisons. Unfortunately, according to the latest gear guide, Osprey no longer makes the Crescent model, so I can't really recommend it to you, although there might be one still hanging around in the store--I think I saw a couple at my REI when I went there last, a couple weeks ago.

Anyway, if someone does come in with a smaller capacity pack that fits giants like us, I'd be very happy to hear about it.
posted by LionIndex at 8:42 AM on March 20, 2008

I second the Arc'teryx. Although I'm basically the opposite of you (female, slim), the Arcteryx pack I got was the only one that didn't make me want to cry out in pain. They've got tons of different styes to fit pretty much any body.

You should probably head to an outdoors activity store near you before you make a final decision. I don't know what is in the US/wherever you might be living, but when I went to MEC in Canada, they had me try on several backpacks which were weighted. The process took about an hour and a half, but it was definitely worth it!
posted by Planet F at 8:43 AM on March 20, 2008

3rding Gregory. I am not a big guy, but they are just damn comfortable nearly indestructible packs.
posted by BobbyDigital at 9:26 AM on March 20, 2008

Best pack I've ever had as a big guy is either my Dana or my Mountainsmith.
Both indestructible and infinitely adjustable.
Both also fit my girth well and carried excessively heavy loads (80+ lbs.) without blowing out (except as one would expect through normal wear and tear).
posted by Seamus at 9:57 AM on March 20, 2008

I'm 6'4" 290lbs.

I use a Kelty Redcloud 6650 as my workhorse. It's been very durable, but more importantly, it's very comfortable. I've got a couple inches of suspension adjustment that I don't even need at my height. It is relatively heavy at over 6 lbs, but I don't even notice it that much as the weight sits on my hips very well. It has happily carried many 7-8 day loads for me, typically 40-50 lbs. This pack fell down the side of a rocky ridge on Isle Royale a few years ago and is still going strong.

If you are looking for something more lightweight, I also have a GoLite Gust, size L that works out very well. It definitely can't take as much weight as the Kelty, but it is very comfortable and spacious. I use it on shorter, 3-5 day trips where I'm looking to save a little weight yet still have ample space and comfort. I believe the Gust is discontinued, but they are still around.
posted by boba at 10:35 AM on March 20, 2008

Response by poster: Thanks for all the responses thus far, I will be exploring all of the recommendations. If there are any others, please pass them along.

I plan on renting a few packs to see how that goes.
posted by iamabot at 3:21 PM on March 20, 2008

Response by poster: Next week, follow up on backpacking boots!

posted by iamabot at 3:27 PM on March 20, 2008

Next week, follow up on backpacking boots

Vasque Sundowner
posted by LionIndex at 4:31 PM on March 20, 2008

Response by poster: Vasque Sundowner

Apparently their build quality has dropped off dramatically...
posted by iamabot at 10:09 PM on March 21, 2008

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